Scientists from the University of Granada (UGR) participated in the largest genomic study on intestinal worms to date, which opens new ways in the treatment of parasitic diseases. The study is based on helminth parasites, intestinal worms that cause chronic debilitating diseases in humans and animals.
This work, published in the journal Nature Genetics and carried out by an international team and coordinated by the “Welcome Sanger Institute” of the University of Cambridge, was based on the massive sequencing of 81 species of helminths. Also, it included the identification of six thousand families of genes associated with the pathogenic mechanisms involved in parasitic diseases.
The diseases caused by these helminths affect more than two billion people in the world, causing diseases such as Schistosomiasis, Teniasis, Hydatidosis or Filariariasis. Many of them are called neglected or forgotten diseases, and affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. At present, there are no vaccines available to combat them and there are few drugs available to treat them, even with a high risk of generating resistance.
Since 2011 the scientists participating in this work have carried out the massive sequencing of 81 species of helminths, which genomes have been annotated and compared, predicting 1.6 million proteins. They also identified about 6000 families of genes associated with the pathogenic mechanisms involved in these diseases.
Based on the comparison of the 81 genomes, the researchers built a map with the metabolic pathways that these parasites follow, determining new targets for therapeutic action to combat them.
In the last part of the work, in silicon screening of more than five thousand compounds was carried out, allowing the identification of new active drugs.
During the last eight years, 54 institutions from 16 countries —6 European, 4 American, 4 Asian, 1 African and 1 in Oceania— participated in the research.
The professor of the UGR, Antonio Osuna, said that in this analysis “we have found a series of new gene families that participate in the evolution towards parasitic life“.
Likewise, the families of genes involved in the evasion of the host’s immune responses, the genes that encode proteins that allow the parasite to migrate through the tissues of the host or allow the parasite to feed, were identified and compared.
They have also identified those genes that can be used for the design and development of new drugs that act specifically against these parasitic organisms.
“The results of this study will provide the molecular tools for the study in the scientific community to understand and fight parasitic worms for both humans and animals of economic interest,” Osuna concluded.